December 25, 2012

Atlanta homeless man's nativity scene

Atlanta homeless man's nativity scene he made
  and donated to the Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip 

I first published this post December 8, 2011.

I tagged along with Jonathan to Atlanta's Church of the Epiphany to listen to his choir rehearse their holiday concert. In the church entrance, I chanced on an exhibit of nativity scenes featuring a collection assembled from a collector's global travels and gifts received. While many scene creators used high-end materials (crystal, gold, enamel), the simplest, "poorest" materials (scraps of straw, newspaper, wood, fiber, and wool) attracted me most. And the homeless man's arrangement of stones (shown in the photo above) triggered my longest pause and reflection.

Two more scenes among my favorites.

Native American

South American

Church of the Epiphany
2089 Ponce de Leon Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30307

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October 22, 2012

Chillin' with Chani in Tel Aviv

On Nachalat Binyamin

Meet Chanaleh (I call her Chani), eldest of my cousin's 13 children. Chani's husband (they are parents of three little ones) drove her from their home in Kiryat Sefer to the Modi'in railroad station where she took the train to Tel Aviv and then caught a city bus to meet and hang out with me.

We checked out fabric stores in the shuk/market in search of raw material (wide!) for a tablecloth she wants to sew, found cheap gifts (one shekel each) that the kids would love, and sampled yummy spiced basmati rice tossed with pistachios and more spices at a specially-kosher-certified purveyor. Today, a day before the Haredi/ultra-Orthodox woman begins (unless there is a strike) a course on radiology technology assisting, she treated us both to a yom kef/fun day!

Way to go, Chani; you totally rock!

October 09, 2012

Daniel Zohar comes to Tel Aviv!

In the Tel Aviv Artists' Market with my cousin Daniel Zohar

Jerusalem-born Daniel speaks fluent Hebrew and Arabic, and enjoys practicing his English with me. On a recent Friday morning, the versatile and gifted student, musician, athlete, hiker, traveler, and gentle born leader accomplished much during a weekend leave from serving in the Intelligence Branch of the Israel Defense Forces. Nothing unusual for Daniel who also plays classical piano, reads voraciously (currently, Graham Green's The Quiet American, in Hebrew translation), and practices for the upcoming Nike-sponsored runner's marathon in Tel Aviv.

On Friday morning, we met in the Daf Yomi daily Talmud study group at Alma, Home for Hebrew Culture where Daniel read the source text and joined in the group's dynamic and spirited text inquiry. When the one-hour Talmud study session ended, one of the regulars said, "Young man: please come back anytime!" I imagine that almost everyone who meets Daniel thinks or says the same thing.

We then wandered through the charming historic neighborhood before Daniel left to meet Miriam in her home a short bus-ride away. The 90-year-old Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and Daniel have developed a close bond since the military's volunteer program matched them up.

(When he was a ninth grader, Daniel wrote a powerful commentary on the Binding of Isaac, and permitted me to publish it here, in the original Hebrew and with my English translation. This dramatic story, central to Jewish liturgy and thought, has challenged generations of commentators.)

September 09, 2012

Have a Sweet Year: Clean the slate and move on.

Ithe Hebrew calendara new year begins this evening.  

Since I was a small child, I have been excited and eager to begin a new year. It is a time when we are called to return to who we are minus all kinds of detritus acquired along the way! How? Clean out the junk (starting within), tidy up the spaces we inhabit, wake up from dazed robotic living, and make amends to ourselves and fellow creatures (including those with fins, scales, feathers, tails) for having missed the mark. And then, move on.

The first day of this two-day festival, we read the Torah portion about Sarah who treated her maid, Hagar, abusively. The commentator Nahmanides (Ramban), a leading medieval Jewish scholar, teaches that Abraham, the father of Ishmael and Isaac (firstborn sons of the women) was a partner to Sarah's abuse: He was a passive, bystander.

Ask yourself, Am I like Sarah or Abraham? Am I an unwitting abuser? Or do I regard and treat respectfully all creation?

Wishing everyone health, learning, giving, and occasions to dance, sing, comfort, laugh, remember, praise, and bless.

I first published this post on September 12, 2007.

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March 25, 2012

סיום מסכת בבא מציעא | Siyum masekhet Bava Metzia [tractate completion]

New at Alma [Home for Hebrew Culture, in Tel Aviv]! Daf Yomi [daily Talmud folio study group] with Kobi Oz... Your daily or occasional participation would delight us... Sundays through Fridays, from 9am to 10am... At times, Alma lecturers join us. [No fee]

Our Daf Yomi group has been engaging in a dynamic and spirited text inquiry since spring 2011 as we follow the seven-and-a-half-year cycle studying the oral Torah and its commentaries, in which each of the 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud is covered, in order. We are a mix of secular and religiously observant Israeli men and women who share wide-ranging knowledge of Talmud, Torah, Jewish history, and rabbinic law; anthropology; education; computer science; music, management; culinary arts, community organizing; and Israel's geography, ancient and modern history, agriculture, and customs. And more.

At our recent Siyum [completion] of Bava Metzia (the second of three Talmud tractates, or sections, on damages), we celebrated with strong drink and sweets while reading the tractate's closing verses, and the opening verses of Bava Batra (the third tractate). We concluded this traditional siyum with the special Rabbinical Kaddish prayer for rabbis, scholars, and their disciples on completing a unit of study —  a significant accomplishment and a milestone.

Watch the slide show (1:15 minutes).

For more information about the group and to ask questions (in English and Hebrew), visit our Facebook Page דף גמרא יומי נינוח במרכז תל אביב. You can also join the group's page (Hebrew).

Alma Home for Hebrew Culture
Bezalel Yafe 4
Tel Aviv-Yafo
Tel. (03) 5663031

March 15, 2012

Hebrew Lesson: ‏‪כדרכו בקודש [ke-darko ba-kodesh, following his usual style]

Ruth reads The New Dictionary (Even-Shoshan) on ‏‪ke-darko ba-kodesh
A casual phrase in an email that Rabbi Dr. Michael Berger sent me triggered a lesson in Hebrew, Aramaic, and the wisdom of scholars and scholar-friends.‬

Watch the video (5:27 minutes), in Hebrew and bits of Aramaic and English.

February 27, 2012

Purim, festival of joy: When is it?

Felegosh, my havruta (Aramaic: study partner) 
 at the Bnei Akiva Purim party in Atlanta, Georgia

QUESTION [via email]: Tamar, I wanted to ask you the dates of Purim — would you know?

ANSWER: Thanks for asking. Purim falls on Adar 14 (and in Jerusalem and all ancient walled cities, it falls on  Adar 15). Adar is the sixth month of the religious year and the twelfth month of the civil year in the Hebrew calendar, also called the Jewish calendar.

For those who follow the Gregorian calendar year (which runs from January 1 to December 31), in 2012, Purim starts on Thursday, March 8, and continues for two days until Friday, March 9. In the Hebrew calender, a day begins at sunset on the previous day, so Jews will celebrate Purim at sunset on Wednesday, March 7.

We mark the date of Jewish holidays according to the Hebrew calendar, and therefore the corresponding date in the Gregorian calendar year is not the same each year. (The same is true for Muslim holidays, which follow the Muslim calendar, and do not start on the same Gregorian calendar date each year.)

In the same way that Christmas is always December 25, Purim is always Adar 14.

It takes some getting used to the different calendars among religions and belief systems. All this is an aspect of differences among cultures, traditions, and world views among members of the human family. Happy Purim!

My other Purim posts

February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day from Sam Cornish!

Boston's Poet Laureate, Sam Cornish, crafts this song of love. (Read the magnified text below the image.)


For them O & M
Beyonce and

the good old

our parents
danced to

"At Last"
it is the two

of them
old school


and then

another gliding

to the music
"At Last"

my lonely

are over
the two

of them

with the music
the song

is them
and us their


each other

so close

they are
these two

we cannot

how dark
the ballroom

is young

it is our fathers

our mothers
in love



— Sam Cornish

Decades ago, Sam and I were teammates on Education Development Center's nationwide project to guide learner-centered curriculum development initiatives as part of the federally-supported "Great Society" broad agenda to eliminate poverty and racial injustice. And great love for students, teachers, families, and communities was key in whatever successful outcomes came of our team's work with them nationwide.

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January 17, 2012

Sam Cornish Remembers Dr. King and the Civil Rights Era

(Click to enlarge image)

With Boston's first poet laureate, Sam Cornish, and other educational advisors, I worked in the poorest neighborhoods of Greater Boston and in newly desegregated schools of rural North Carolina and Delaware. There, with teachers, administrators, and policymakers we created learner-centered curriculum development initiatives as part of the federally-supported "Great Society" broad agenda to eliminate poverty and racial injustice. Decades later, as I reflect on that era and the work I did then and since, this "war" was the single most meaningful, most useful, most important I fought (and keep fighting).